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posted: 3/13/2012 5:47 PM

DuPage rejects height waiver for mosque

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  • Muslim Educational and Cultural Center of America won't be allowed to exceed a DuPage County height restriction when it builds a mosque near Willowbrook.

      Muslim Educational and Cultural Center of America won't be allowed to exceed a DuPage County height restriction when it builds a mosque near Willowbrook.

 
 

A Muslim group planning to build a mosque near Willowbrook says the structure will have a dome, despite DuPage County's refusal to waive a height restriction.

However, the decision by the county board most likely has eliminated the possibility of Muslim Educational and Cultural Center of America's future home from having another significant feature: a minaret.

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DuPage board members on Tuesday voted 14-4 to reject MECCA's request to exceed the county's 36-foot height restriction in unincorporated residential neighborhoods when the group constructs a roughly 47,000-square-foot mosque on almost 5 acres along 91st Street near Route 83.

As a result, MECCA can't amend the conditional-use permit it received last year for the project to include a desired 50-foot dome and 60-foot minaret.

Abdulgany Hamadeh, MECCA's president, said he will talk to the project's architect to determine how the mosque can have a dome that complies with the 36-foot restriction. Construction is expected to start in June.

"It probably will be an internal dome -- not an external dome," Hamadeh said. "We'll see."

But the structure won't have a minaret because of Tuesday's decision, according to Mark Daniel, the attorney representing MECCA.

"They (MECCA) can have a minaret at 36 feet, but it means nothing," Daniel said. "In the Muslim faith, a minaret at that height is meaningless. So why build it? They'll proceed without the minaret as a meaningful symbol on the property."

Hamadeh said the group is disappointed because it believed it met DuPage's recently revised zoning standards for the height waiver.

MECCA last year was denied a height variance for its original plan to add a 69-foot dome and 79-foot minaret to the future mosque. Then in October, DuPage adopted a set of zoning law changes that apply to churches, mosques and other places of assembly.

One of those revisions allows religious design elements including bell towers, steeples and crosses to exceed 36 feet -- to a maximum height of 72 feet -- as long as certain setback requirements are met.

"We thought that we were going to be approved based on the standards that the county set," Hamadeh said.

But a majority of the board sided with neighbors who opposed the changes even though MECCA moved the planned location of the dome east, away from neighboring residential parcels.

Board member Don Puchalski, who voted against MECCA's request, said it's reasonable for neighbors to want the mosque to comply with the height restriction. He said residents should have a say on how their neighborhoods are developed. Puchalski added that he doesn't believe MECCA met the requirements to receive the height waiver under the new zoning rules.

But board member Grant Eckhoff said neighbors won't be adversely impacted because they won't be able to see the dome and minaret from their homes. Eckhoff joined board members Rita Gonzalez, Tony Michelassi and William Bedrossian in supporting MECCA's request.

Some reacted to Tuesday's decision by saying it could set a bad precedent for other religious institutions who seek changes under the new zoning rules.

"The county board members who voted in opposition do not understand the analysis of a conditional-use process," said Terry Pastika, executive director of the Citizen Advocacy Center.

"This vote is a big deal because it affects more than just MECCA," she added. "It affects any place of assembly that's in existence and their capacity to change or alter their properties."

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